Is your pet at risk of developing skin cancer?

It’s a rarely discussed fact that non-pigmented and poorly haired animals have a similar risk of getting sunburnt and developing skin cancers as humans.

The most common skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, accounts for 5% canine skin tumours and 15% feline tumours diagnosed each year. At least 30% of these pets will have multiple skin cancers.

White-haired cats have a significantly greater risk of developing skin cancer than cats of other colours.

And shockingly, almost 50% of all cats in Perth develop skin cancer over their lifetime…given Queensland’s comparable climate, it’s assumed that the figures would be similar.

Know the signs

The most common sites for skin cancers in cats are the head and neck especially the ear, nose and eyelids. In dogs, we see it on the nose but also the belly as they like to sunbake.

Early warning signs include redness or a scale-like texture to the skin. Late signs include the development of ulcers or masses on the skin.

It’s good to get in the habit of regularly checking your pet’s skin for changes or lumps. Bath time or when they are enjoying a pat are good opportunities. If you are concerned about a change in your pet’s skin it’s best to have them checked by your vet, as early diagnosis makes a big difference in the successful treatment of skin cancers in pets.

Orange and white cat, bullet, with female owner and two ARH vets

Preventing skin cancer

Unfortunately sun screen doesn’t work on pets as they tend to lick it off.

The best measure, as with humans, is to limit sun exposure during the hot parts of the day particularly outdoors or on window sills. Make sure your pet has plenty of comfortable shady spots available for when they are outdoors.

If your pet needs to be outside, sun suits and hats are available for both dogs and cats, and dogs can also wear specially made goggles/sunglasses.

Bullet’s new hat isn’t just for style

Like many cats, Bullet loves to lie in the sun, particularly on his left side, exposing his right to harmful UV rays. He developed his first skin cancer in 2015 and recently he developed recurrent disease around the right eyelid.

Cat with sun protection hat on

Bullet’s original skin cancer was removed by our specialist surgical oncologist, Dr Maurine Thomson, and a skin flap was put in place. Early diagnosis meant that he responded well to this treatment, however, his owners sadly found another cancer three years later.

Excitingly, Bullet was now a candidate for the drug, palladia, which acts as a blocker of blood vessels, inhibiting the new growth of tumours and slowing down the growth of previous tumours.

He is being treated by our specialist medical oncologist, Dr Kathleen O’Connell, and has been on Palladia for six weeks. It’s only early days but he is responding well to the treatment and we are hopeful that he won’t have a further recurrence of this lesion.

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